A Day in Nara

Oh Deer!

If there's one thing I love about Japan, it is the people. They are the kindest, most disciplined, and most respectful people I have ever met. And quite surprisingly, the deer in Nara are just as polite as the locals. As a matter of fact, these critters are far more polite than half the people you meet.

Kidding? Perhaps not.
Posing with a deer at Nara Park
The deer poses better than I do.
The Nara Park is a home of over a thousand of wild albeit friendly sika deer that roam around freely. It has been told that the deity named Takemi Kajichi no Mikoto arrived in Nara on a white deer to act as the city's protector. The deer were then considered sacred messengers of the gods and have become a symbol of the city.  Whether or not the deer remained sacred, the locals still give utmost respect for it to this day. If one sees a deer crossing the street, they patiently wait for it to cross. They never honk or shoo it away.

Deer scattered everywhere in Nara

Up close and personal with the deer
It's not that hard to spot a deer in Nara because they are literally scattered everywhere. The deer are so used to humans that they absolutely show no fear. That's probably because they see us as a source of food.

A child with a deer

And funny when you don't have anything to feed them with, they would show their disdain by gnawing on the nearest item on you. In our case, my butt and Jan's bag.

Feeding a deer in Nara Park

Deer crackers are practically sold everywhere in the park for only JPY150 (approx P75). I am not sure what it's made of but it does smell like one of those rice bran cereals (maybe I should've tasted it noh? Haha). You're not supposed to feed the deer with anything except for the crackers since these are made suitable for the deer. We got ourselves a pack and trotted off somewhere less crowded.

A stall that sells deer crackers
A deer cracker stall. We find it amazing how these deer do not bother the stalls run by grandmas, when in fact, the crackers are just within their reach. They wait until someone actually buys them before they "attack".
Hand-feeding deer in Nara Park
Ganged up by a bunch of deer.
The bow
In Japan, bowing is a sign of gratitude, respect, or greeting in social or religious situations.

When you bow to a deer, they bow back and vice versa. We all know that they do this in exchange for food. But how the deer passed such good manners from one generation to another is amazing. The deer developed this habit by learning from their own folks and that's pretty amusing.
Posing with a deer
I photobombed a deer.
A word of caution
The deer can be a bit aggressive. I mean, they will keep following you around and will not stop giving you a soft nudge until they have their fill. They do not offensively attack in any way, but it always pays to be careful. They are still wild, after all.

Todaiji Temple

It didn't take long before our crackers ran out, so we took off to the nearest tourist spot, the Todaiji Temple.

Adjacent from deer park is the Nandaimon Gate, a large wooden gate watched over by the Nio Guardian Kings⁠—two fierce looking statues that are now considered national treasures along with the gate itself. It was constructed at the end of the 12th century.
Naindaimon Gate
Nandaimon Gate
A short walk from the Nandaimon gate leads to the Todaiji temple. It wasn't the best time to visit because of the swarm of tourists but it is one of the places that got us awestruck.

There are many attractions found in the Todaiji temple complex. Most are free of admission, while a few ones like the Todaiji museum and Great Buddha Hall (Daibutsuden) have a fee. Admission to each is JPY600 (approx P300) or you can do both for JPY1,000.

The Daibutsuden was completed in 752 and has been repaired and renovated multiple times due damage from natural disasters and wars.

Great Buddha Hall in Todaiji Temple
The Great Buddha Hall on the background.
The current building was finished in 1709, about two-thirds smaller than its predecessor but still deemed as the largest wooden building in the world and it houses the world's largest and oldest gilded bronze Buddha also known as Daibutsu-san.

Daibutsu-san was built in 729 and has been recasted and repaired several times due to damages incurred from earthquake and clan wars.
How big is this? The Buddha's hand is as tall as a person.

This is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Jan and I both have this fascination for old and intricate architecture, and the Todaiji Temple had us stunned. Our trip to Japan really piqued my interest and it has led me to read a lot more about Japan's fascinating history (I feel bad that I'm more interested learning this than our own).

Most people skip Nara because there is nothing else to see. Perhaps because to some, animals aren't their thing (they kind of smell, by the way). But for us who loves animals, getting up close with a free-roaming deer sure is a new experience worth trying. Plus, if you're up for old temples and experience a different kind of spiritual retreat or if you simply want to learn a thing or two about history, a day trip to Nara is definitely worth your time.

P.S. Just so you know, my Japan posts are not written chronologically. This Nara trip happened on the last day and I still have a lot of things to share. I know each day we spent in Japan gave us a brand new experience but I think I am unwittingly writing these in order according to favorite. It makes a lot of sense now why the Wizarding World of Harry Potter was published first.

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